NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine is currently the public face of the newly-named Artemis Lunar Initiative, which aims to bring the first woman to the Moon by 2024. On Monday he announced that NASA wants $ 1.6 billion more for next year to accelerate the project, but there are still questions about the final cost of the program and the exact details of how NASA Astronauts actually get to the lunar surface.
NASA already has a general view of this initiative taking shape, but now Bridenstine has the daunting task of raising funds to boost the ambitious project. The agency plans to build a space station called Gateway in orbit around the Moon, which will serve as an outpost for astronauts. NASA has also developed a rocket called SLS and a crew capsule called Orion, which will bring together astronauts to this new lunar station. From there, people in a lander will drive from the gate to the lunar surface.
All these moving parts mean that a lot of new hardware is needed, needs to be developed and tested over the next five years, and space assembly is definitely required. This week The Verge spoke with Bridenstine over the phone and email to learn more about the new Artemis program and how Congress can convince NASA's coffers of another 1
This interview was easily edited for length and clarity.
One thing that many people have noticed is that the request is a bit low. It's definitely not $ 8 billion, as some thought, and it's also low compared to what Apollo did in the '60s and' 70s. What do you say to those who think that it is not high enough?
We must remember that we SLS, Orion and the European Service Module are already well on their way. These are three of the most important components in bringing people to the moon and we are about to cope with these programs. When we talk about what we need, we need to develop the gateway and develop the land systems.
That's exactly what we're focusing on now. If you look at a normal development project, it follows a bell curve. So, as you correctly identified, the first year is pretty low. We turn to the commercial industry to consider how to get from the gate to the lunar surface. We essentially buy a service. The commercial industry will offer American astronauts a service to get from the gateway to the lunar surface.
We seek Our industrial partners make their own investments in the lander. We expect them to invest with the goal of having non-NASA clients. You could have customers who are international. You could have customers who are commercial customers. We are therefore looking for partners who invest their own money.
What brings us the $ 1 billion is a good start to start the development with money for important milestones. And then in 2021 we will search for additional resources. As I said, it follows a bell curve. 2021 will be a little bit more, 2022 will be more than that and then it will come down again.
Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Kendra Horn (D-OK) have already expressed their early views on and have both talked about their concern that there is no full budget for the years to come. So why not uncover the entire five-year budget now? We urge the industry once again to invest in them, and we want to review their ideas before making any major decisions. There are proposals that require only two elements to get from the gateway to the lunar surface and then back to the gateway: a descent module and a rise module. There are other ideas that use three elements that would involve a transfer vehicle.
So there are different concepts, different ideas. Different companies can invest their own money at different levels. For this reason, it is difficult for us to judge which options are currently available. However, we look forward to receiving many great ideas, and we can use the ideas we have received to gauge what the Budget 2021 will look like.
On Monday, you I said it was difficult to call people about the new budget change. Have you talked to more legislators since the release and do you have more details on their reactions?
Definitely. I testified in the Senate a few days ago, and it was very positive. People are happy about the moon. Last night, Senator [Jerry] sent Moran, chairman of the CJS Appropriations Committee in the Senate-that's the most important committee funding NASA-a tweet that specifically states:
"Our greatest achievements are yet to come. And as NASA's chief appropriator, I'll work with the President of the United States, Vice President, and Jim Bridenstine to ensure that NASA has the resources to land the first woman on the moon and build a lasting infrastructure Support missions to Mars and beyond. "
I did not expect that. I was excited to see it and retweeted it immediately.
Our biggest successes are still ahead of us. And as chief appropriator for @NASA I will work with @POTUS @VP & @JimBridenstine to make a specific NASA has the resources, to land the first woman on the moon and build a permanent infrastructure to support missions to and beyond Mars. https://t.co/ZYvsgoTiR1[19459003lightboxes-senerJerryMoran(@JerryMoran) May 15, 2019
And I'll say, talking to the senators on the other side of the aisle, I find it widely agreed that that this is something very exciting that interests people. I was specifically asked by a number of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives: is that enough? Do you have everything you need? And for the year 2020, the answer is yes. So, the concern of many people on the other side of the aisle is if that's all you need?
I think there is good support here on both sides of the aisle.
Also on Monday, you mentioned that you did not know where the money came from in the federal budget, but it has now been revealed that it comes from the Pell Grant surplus, as we suspected. Are you worried about making the mission harder to sell to Congress?
In my opinion, this is now part of the overall budget application. And if you look at the entire budget request, there are accounts that are going up and there are accounts that are falling. My only assignment was to tell them what we had expected for a good start to the year 2020 for a moon landing in 2024.
We gave them these numbers. You have supplied these numbers. And which accounts are rising and which are falling is above my salary level and out of my control. I'll say with certainty that NASA has what it needs, and it's up to the House of Representatives and the Senate how they want to finance it. And whatever they do, we will obey the law.
You mentioned that this budget is not related to NASA, but there is a language in the Budget Change that would give the administrator the permission to do so. I wish for clarity.
The president's budget change is not based on compensation within existing NASA programs, which allow US astronauts to return to the moon by 2024, and I have publicly stated that I do not intend to divert funding from other NASA programs, including science, in support of efforts to return man to the moon. The proposed transmission language is intended to provide the NASA administrator with maximum flexibility in the allocation of funds to ensure the most effective and efficient US strategic lunar presence on the Moon. The language should not enable the transfer of other resources within the agency to the lunar effort.
NASA will work with the deployment committees to ensure that this transfer authority is clearly limited to the overall lunar effort.
Let's talk about the actual mission. One thing Rep. Horn told me was that she wanted more details about the plan. We know the basics: SLS will bring Orion to the gateway, and from there people will travel to the moon in one lander. But do you have a more detailed roadmap of all launches and tests that need to be done, or is it still in progress?
Sure, you've identified a number of pieces, and all of these pieces need to be tested. As far as the launches are concerned, we have to start the first elements of the gateway: the power and drive element and the so-called Utilization Module, a very small living space. Each of these parts is commercialized, so there are two launches.
And then we have to aggregate the lander at the gateway. And this lander could either have two or three parts. And we will look at industry suggestions to assess what the best approach is. We are certainly working on a more detailed analysis.
Have an understanding of the number of starts or missions that you need, including the launch of the gateway elements, including the launching of test flights for Orion, landers, etc.? [19659041<WirhabenSLSdasEM-1startenwirdWirwerdenesjetztArtemis1nennenAberArtemis1wirdeinunbemannterStartumdenMondseinArtemis2wirdeinbemannterStartumdenMondseinArtemis3wirddienächstenMenschentragendieaufdemMondlandenBeijedemdieserStartshandeltessichumeineSLS-RaketemiteinerOrion-MannschaftskapselundeinemeuropäischenServicemodul
Well, for Artemis 3, which is transporting our crew to the gateway, the crew must have access to a lander. This means that at Gateway we will have the Power and Propulsion Element introduced commercially, the Utilization Module being introduced commercially, and then we will have a lander there. And depending on the industry, the lander has two or three elements – how do you want to solve the challenge of getting from the gateway to the lunar surface? And if there are two elements, there are two commercial launches. If there are three elements, there will probably be three commercial launches.
After my quick calculation, it sounds like you're aiming for seven to eight launches.
Gateway consists of two elements, which are two launches. You have a lander – we'll say there are three launches for the lander, so there are five. In fact, we want two unique solutions for the lander, six, seven and eight. And then you have three SLS launches, so nine, 10 and 11. So up to 11 launches.
Now much of this is based on architecture, which has been in development for about a decade, such as: SLS and Orion and as you said, the programs have suffered setbacks and delays. In the meantime, Vice President Pence has spoken about the urgency. If our current contractors can not do this, we will win new contractors. What happens if these programs are delayed again and more money is available to keep them on schedule?
I think we have what we need now. The most likely way to enable the next man and woman on the Moon's surface in 2024 is to get on with SLS and Orion as fast as possible. And so we think that this is achievable. We have to make sure that there are no mistakes and no setbacks.
I would like to hear your thoughts on the recent pitches made public for lunar countries classified by humans. Lockheed did a pitch in April and I'm sure you saw Jeff Bezos last week unveiling Blue Moon. What do you think of these proposals and could they be included in the NASA plan?
We are very happy about her. We want to have two very different landing abilities, so that the other one can move forward if one of them suffers a setback. And there are others besides the two you just talked about that are in progress. Each of these methods gives NASA the opportunity to gain unique perspectives from a few very capable service providers. We look forward to assessing and analyzing what they plan to do and how much they think they will cost and how much they will be willing to invest in the program.
Obviously, the deadline is very short. Have you started to think about an astronaut training plan and what that would mean?
Definitely. The training plan is underway. We have a very skilled and diverse astronaut corps with a lot of experience on the International Space Station. We did not pick the squad that will be the first crew to go around the Moon in 2022 and then to the Gateway in 2024 and then to the surface. We did not choose what this squad looks like, but we are very confident that we have the right people. And we look forward to getting you ready.
There has been much talk about space suits and how they may not be finished. You have stressed that this will be the case, but I would like to hear more details. I know that this year's request already contains some money, but are you planning to award new contracts or use existing contracts soon?
The following: We know how to build a spacesuit. That has priority for us. That's not easy to achieve. But surely we will not go to the moon without space suits, so we work our way through.
Artemis is all about bringing women to the moon. Will she be the one who makes the first step on the moon?
The direction we have now is that the next man and woman will be Americans and that we will land on the South Pole of the Moon in 2024. Moreover, we have not made concrete decisions, but I tell you it's something that interests us all, and I think there are many young ladies across the country and indeed around the world. You wonder who this first woman will be.
In everything we've talked about, have you had a big problem putting that plan into action? What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you plan to overcome these hurdles?
You have identified the greatest risk that is political. And that's why we're not on the moon right now. It is indeed the reason why we are not on Mars right now. We go back to 1972, it was the last time we had a person on the surface of the moon. And since 1972, there have been many efforts to return to the moon and all have failed. And they did not fail at NASA; They have not failed at the technological capabilities of this agency. They have failed at the bizarre budgets that come from politicians.
That's one of the reasons why it's so important to accelerate this program. As the program gets longer and longer, priorities, budgets and administrations change, and each of these carries additional political risk.
We have already experienced this. If we want to be successful, we have to give up the political risk, which means we need to accelerate the plan to get to the moon, and we need a strong bipartisan consensus that this is the right thing for our country. I think we are here. I think there are many people who understand that this is a unique opportunity that we need to take advantage of.